One challenge passed, Slafkovsky prepares for the next

Alexander Slafkovsky had never heard of leptospirosis before this year, but now he can not only tell you what it is, he can also tell you what it feels like.

Not good. Horrible, actually, especially for a finely tuned athlete who can push his body to extremes most mere mortals can only dream about.

Leptospirosis is an infection usually caused by water-borne bacteria, which should make canoe slalom athletes particularly vulnerable.

When 36-year-old Slafkovsky began to feel tired, and then developed a fever, he thought nothing of it. That was about a month ago.

The fever persisted, even growing worse. Most people would have taken themselves off to bed, but because Slafkovsky was in the middle of important slalom qualification races, he decided to battle on.

“For a month I had fevers and was really tired all the time,” he said.

“Every day you’d wake up, and you’d feel kind of good. But then around midday the fever and the sweating would start, and you would feel sick and without energy. It was like this for two weeks.

“After my last selection race at home, I said ‘I’m done, that’s enough, we have to do something about this situation because I cannot be like this for another month.”

Especially being an Olympic qualifying year. Slafkovsky knows this might be his last chance to get to an Olympics, and because C1 paddling in Slovakia is so strong, he dare not give his competitors too much of a head start.

Which of course made him worry even more.

“I was worried about what it might be and how I could change it. For ten days I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t go in the sun because of the pills. They were very strong pills,” he said.

“I was still trying to train, to beat it somehow. We didn’t know how to beat it, so we did some research and took some blood and found out it was an infection.

“It’s still in my body, so we are trying to keep it down or kill it somehow with some strong pills. It’s working well for now, so I’m happy to be back in the boat.

“Every day I am feeling better. I was always planning to come here because I really like the course.”

2018 was a year of frustration for Slafkovsky. Even though he finished the year as the overall C1 world cup winner, he didn’t win a single major international event for the entire season.

But he was incredibly consistent, finishing second in the first four ICF canoe slalom world cups. Importantly, he regularly finished ahead of his Slovakian teammates, especially Rio Olympic silver medalist, Matej Benus, and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Michal Martikan.

It’s somewhat cruel that Slafkovsky, Benus and Martikan all come from Slovakia, because only one will be able to go to Tokyo next year. It’s a cutthroat situation worthy of an Olympic final in itself.

Slafkovsky is not sure how he’ll go this weekend at Lee Valley, home of the Olympic slalom competition in 2012. But it’s a long season, and there’s a lot of racing still to come.

“This year is a new year, new challenges, we have the Olympic qualification at the second part of the season, so for me it is a big challenge, maybe the last chance for me to go to the Olympics,” he said.

“We are strong in the C1. I see it as a motivation, not as an obstacle, to qualify for the Olympics.

“I think that’s why we are so strong. We have four boats so close to each other, so we have to push hard every time.

“Everybody does their own thing, but we respect each other.”

The opening ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup of the 2019 season begins on Friday in Lee Valley. Follow live streaming at canoeicf.com

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